The Philippine government has ordered the mandatory repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Syria in view of the current crisis in that country.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario left for Damascus on New Year’s Eve to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous and other Syrian officials.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Del Rosario was able to formally seek the Syrian government’s full assistance in facilitating the repatriation of distressed Filipinos, especially those who are in conflict areas, such as in Homs, Daraa, Idlib and Hama.

Upon arrival in Damascus January 1, Del Rosario met with the leaders of the Filipino Community in Syria to reiterate the government campaign for the mandatory repatriation call for all OFWs. If they cannot be repatriated, they are advised to leave the country at the soonest possible time.

“We are fully committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of all Filipinos in Syria.  It is our objective to undertake the repatriation of our kababayans as quickly as possible,” Del Rosario said.

Del Rosario announced that the government would be repatriating 200 OFWs within the next 2 weeks and another 200 in the following weeks.

Del Rosario, accompanied by Foreign Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Esteban Conejos, reviewed the Embassy’s contingency plans, which resulted in a greater commitment of resources that will help in the urgent implementation of the repatriation program.

During the visit, Del Rosario met with Foreign Minister al-Moallem and was given a briefing on the events in Syria. The Syrian government has facilitated the repatriation of 490 Filipinos since the beginning of unrests in March 2011.

Del Rosario asked the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s assistance in further updating the Philippine Embassy in Damascus’ current database of 5,000 Filipinos.  According to the DFA, this is in order to supplement the determination of the exact location and other information of other Filipinos deployed throughout Syria’s 13 governorates.

Earlier, Del Rosario and the Philippine delegation also met with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ambassadors in Damascus for an exchange of views on the current political and security situation in Syria, and to coordinate Philippine efforts with that of the embassies of other ASEAN countries in safeguarding the welfare of their nationals across the country.

The DFA raised the crisis alert level in Syria from alert level 3 to alert level 4 last December 22. Under crisis alert level 4, mandatory repatriation at Philippine government’s expense will be implemented.

The Embassy’s hotline number is 00-963-116-132626. Families may also e-mail their requests and concerns through the Embassy’s e-mail address pe.damascus@gmail.com .

In Manila, the DFA also activated hotline numbers for families of Filipinos based in Syria, at 834-3245 and 834-3240.